By Lovepreet Dhinsa
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – Day 5 on Friday of the trial of Derek Chauvin—the former cop accused of murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly 10 minutes—featured two witnesses, Sgt. John Curtis Edwards and Lt. Richard Zimmerman, chief of the MPD homicide division.
Sgt. Edwards, who has worked with the Minneapolis Police Department for the last 14 years, participates in a community response team and a community engagement unit.
On the day in question, May 25, 2020, Sgt. Edwards began his “dog-watch” (overnight) shift at 8:30 p.m., where he was conducting a roll call with officers when he received a call from Sgt. David Pleoger, who testified Thursday MPD officers are trained to roll people on their side to help with their breathing after they have been restrained in the prone position.
Sgt. Pleoger explained he was currently at the hospital with a victim who may or may not live, which was later determined to be Floyd, and requested Sgt. Edwards respond to the incident location of 38th and Chicago Streets.
Sgt. Pleoger also asked Sgt. Edwards to make contact with the officers already at the scene, Thomas Lane and Alexander King, because this had a possibility of being a critical incident and the scene would need to be secured.
According to Sgt. Edwards, a critical incident is any officer-involved incident where an officer or someone else suffered great bodily injury, usually resulting in death. In cases like this, crime scenes need to be secured for any evidence.
When Sgt. Edwards arrived at the scene, he ensured that the body cameras of Officers Thomas Lane and Alexander King were active and running. Sgt. Edwards described the scene as a high profile area, with major streets and not many people around.
Sgt. Edwards instructed several officers to respond to the area and, once they arrived, he instructed them to place crime scene tape up around the entire intersection. Sgt. Edwards reported taking the steps necessary as if this were a critical incident, despite not knowing any specifics of why he was called to respond to the location.
Sgt. Edwards secured the scene, as well as Floyd’s vehicle.
Sgt. Edwards also instructed four officers to canvass the area, going door to door to contact any potential witness that may know what occurred and if they would be willing to speak to upper administration.
Unfortunately, the officers were unable to locate any witnesses that were willing to speak about the matter. One older gentleman was found near the scene; however, he refused to speak or provide any information to Sgt. Edwards and wanted to leave.
Sgt. Edwards also reported making contact with the manager of Cup Foods, who claimed he did not witness any incidents.
Sgt. Dale and Lt. Zimmerman arrived at the scene. Lt. Zimmerman ensured that the scene was properly secured, ordered more officers to arrive at the scene, and ensured more canvassing of the area.
Lt. Zimmerman reported that this investigation would be handed to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). To ensure that this would be a smooth transition, Lt. Zimmerman advised Sgt. Edwards to task an officer with preparing a crime scene log, a list of the names of officers and personnel that entered the crime scene.
Sgt. Dale informed Lt. Zimmerman that Floyd had died, after which arrangements were made to escort Officer Lane and King to room 100 of City Hall to further questioning by the BCA. When the BCA arrived at the scene, they escorted both officers and towed Mr. Floyd’s vehicle, as well as removing the crime scene tape.
The second witness to be called to the stand was Lt. Zimmerman, who has been working with the Minneapolis Police Department since 1981. In working with the Homicide Unit, Lt. Zimmerman works with a dozen officers on investigating suspicious deaths in Minneapolis.
On May 25, Lt. Zimmerman was called to the scene for a homicide response and a critical incident investigation. Upon arriving at approximately 9:56 pm, he spoke with Officers Lane and King, and determined they were involved officers. If an officer is involved in a crime, Lt. Zimmerman confirmed they have to be escorted to speak with investigators at BCA.
Further, as a part of his investigation, Lt. Zimmerman stood in the center of the intersection to search for video cameras or milestone cameras, which were cameras set up that can be monitored to help deter crime or aid if a crime has already occurred.
Lt. Zimmerman located a milestone camera on the corner of the Speedway, which was across the intersection from Cup Foods. These cameras may also be referred to as poll cameras, as they are mounted up high, usually on light poles.
Lt. Zimmerman’s involvement was concluded until he was later tasked to review the body camera footage of several officers.
Further, Lt. Zimmerman was questioned about how he receives training on the use of force. Lt. Zimmerman testified that every officer is required to attend training once a year and the training covered the police policies in place about the use of force.
Lt. Zimmerman explained the use-of-force continuum, which is a policy followed by the department about the different categories of force.
He described the various levels in the following order: arriving at the scene in uniform, any verbal skills that an officer learned to help diffuse the scene or learn about what happened in a situation, escorting someone out of the scene by the arm, using “softer” methods such as handcuffs or mace, and the use of deadly force.
The highest level was the use of deadly force against a victim. Although there is not set protocol, Lt. Zimmerman stated that officers are trained to use the force that they believe is relative to the threat.
In over 30 years of experience and working in the field, Lt. Zimmerman testified he had never been trained to kneel on someone’s neck when they are handcuffed. This would be considered the top tier of use of force.
When questioned on the reason for not kneeling on someone’s neck, Lt. Zimmerman testified that doing so will injure the victim.
Lt. Zimmerman provided insight into his training of restraint using handcuffs, in which he stated that, once you handcuff someone, “that person is yours, his safety is your responsibility, his well-being is your responsibility.”
Lt. Zimmerman also testified that when someone is handcuffed, the amount of force required is limited. When someone is handcuffed, the threat level goes all the way down to the first tier, as you remove their ability to hurt you, being handcuffed, said the officer.
Regarding the prone position that Floyd was in underneath defendant Chauvin, and lying on his chest facing the ground, Lt. Zimmerman said “once you secure someone or handcuff someone, you need to get them out of the prone position as soon as possible because it restricts their breathing.”
Lt. Zimmerman described the prone position as stretching the muscles back through the chest, which makes it incredibly difficult to breathe. Lt. Zimmerman has had continuous training about the prone position since 1995, in which he explained that the person must be turned on their side or sat up to ensure that they are off their chest.
Lt. Zimmerman also explained that all officers are provided training about basic medical interaction, in which officers receive first responder training, including CPR and chest compressions. This training is required every year to maintain a police officer license.
Upon viewing Officer Chauvin’s body camera, Lt. Zimmerman described Officer’s Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck as the top tier use of force.
Lt. Zimmerman described the use of force as “totally unnecessary. First of all, putting him down to the ground, and then putting your knee on the neck for that amount of time, it’s just uncalled for. I saw no reason why the officers felt that they were in danger and that is what they should have felt to be able to use such a force.”
In Lt. Zimmerman’s opinion, the restrain should have been stopped when Floyd was handcuffed and prone on the ground, especially when Lt. Zimmerman saw Floyd appear to stop putting up any resistance.
Officer Chauvin’s defense attorney attempted to dispute Lt. Zimmerman’s analysis by alleging that he had only been working in an investigative capacity and not working directly with the community in patrolling the area, in which he suggested his training might not have been in context.
However, Zimmerman explained that, regardless of his role on the job, he still received training annually, which was similar to the training that all other officers received.
Officer Chauvin’s defense attorney also attempted to dispute that police policies have changed since 1981 until now, in an effort to discredit Lt. Zimmerman; however, Lt. Zimmerman explained that he receives regular training both about the prone position and the use of force.
Zimmerman also provided testimony about the critical thinking model, which involves assessment of the location, the tactical advantage, the ability to conceal and cover, screen security, the security of the scene, and the medical distress of the person restrained to determine the use of force necessary.
Based on Lt. Zimmerman’s review, he believed that Chauvin did not have to use the force necessary for the length of the time he did, nor did he have to improvise in any way by using his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Trial resumes Monday at 9:15 a.m. EST.
Lovepreet Dhinsa is a junior undergraduate student at the University of San Francisco, pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Politics with a minor in Legal Studies. She has a passion for criminal defense law, and strives to go to law school to fight for indigent clients. As such, she is also involved in her university’s mock trial program and student government.
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